Lean & Mean

These three companies made major changes to their storage systems. Here's what they gained.

No matter how vital stored data might be to the business, storage administrators still have to abide by the mantra “Do more with less.” So with growing amounts of data and rising costs for power, companies are turning to new technologies that help consolidate hardware, reduce space and power demands, and lower costs. Here’s how a few storage champions are using the latest technologies to get lean and mean.

MONEY-SAVER

Atlantic Health

Morristown, N.J.
www.atlantichealth.org

  • Project lead: Pat Zinno, director of infrastructure services and support

  • Approach: Standardized its storage equipment, streamlined its storage-area network, eliminated direct-attached storage and deployed a tiered-storage strategy.


Atlantic Health, a nonprofit health care system in New Jersey, took a hard look at its storage systems last year when faced with the cost and space challenges of adding a replicated hot site about 20 miles away from its Morristown headquarters.

Pat Zinno

Pat Zinno

When Pat Zinno, director of infrastructure services and support, assessed how the organization’s mix of SAN and captive storage systems were being used, the results surprised him.

While the SAN storage operated efficiently, at 98% utilization, less than half of the 30TB available on locally attached storage was being used. “A handful of servers were always getting hammered with data. They were running out of disk space, and right next to it, there’s a server with 200GB of free space, but I can’t use it because it’s captive in another box,” Zinno recalls.

The financial picture wasn’t pretty, either. Though the cost of local disk space was cheap, at about 5 cents per megabyte, Zinno still ended up spending $1.5 million to get 11TB of usable space. With the more efficient SAN storage, even at double the cost of local, “it was actually $402,000 cheaper than our locally attached storage when you look at the cost per usage,” Zinno explains.

Atlantic Health took drastic measures to overhaul its entire storage system. First, Zinno created a dedicated storage team to oversee all current and future storage needs. Next, the health care system standardized on EMC devices, streamlined its SAN, eliminated direct-attached storage and deployed tiered storage — most of which is consolidated within a single cabinet.

In this tiered-storage structure, data is classified as mission-critical, business-critical or business-important and stored on an EMC Symmetrix DMX-3 system. This forms the basis for Atlantic Health’s recovery time objectives and recovery point objectives during a disaster. The mission-critical systems, such as patient registration, medical charts, emergency room systems and Microsoft Exchange, are all directly attached to the DMX via Fibre Channel. Business-critical data, such as financial management, payroll and intranet data, are called up via iSCSI using a network-attached storage gateway. Storage classified as business-important also uses iSCSI and is backed up to disk using EMC NetWorker software.

Making choices about what data goes where based on its value has allowed the health care facility to reduce its storage acquisition costs.

Zinno also chose an EMC Centera archiving platform and an e-mail archiving component to connect with the DMX system. “From a performance standpoint, we shrunk the database size of Exchange data stored down to what’s locally on the server, so our Exchange system is performing better,” he says. And the majority of the mail that people never accessed now sits out on a much cheaper Centera disk. Zinno is also working with business units to determine what other noncritical data can be moved to the Centera for long-term storage.

Results: Although Zinno hasn’t had a full year to measure results, the new storage system has shown some immediate benefits. “We have gained the ability to start doing disk-to-disk backups instead of using tapes. Our early estimates are showing a 35% reduction in the time it takes to complete a backup,” he says.

While Zinno says he expects to achieve the cost and space savings he had forecast, he sees even more cost benefits down the road.

With storage consolidated into a single cabinet, Zinno says he can allocate the storage needed for a specific application and business unit and then accurately charge back the cost to the business unit. “It gives us a better way to paint the picture of where money is spent in the business rather than one big IT storage purchase,” Zinno says.


SPACE-SAVER

Intellidyn Inc.

Hingham, Mass.
www.intellidyn.com

  • Project lead: Rajeev Kumar Gagneja, technical director

  • Approach: Implemented modular storage with 4Gbit/sec. Fibre Channel port connectivity in a three-tiered storage model.


Intellidyn Inc., a marketing database company in Hingham, Mass., relies on millions of intricate information records to deliver customized consumer data to its clients. Last year, technical director Rajeev Kumar Gagneja realized that the agency’s three master databases and vast client data warehouses were outgrowing the company’s storage system.

“Our storage requirement has gone from 500GB to almost 40TB of data in less than five years. Two years from now, I can fairly estimate that it will be a petabyte” of data, Gagneja says. Additional servers would require additional hardware, more contract maintenance workers and more physical space at the agency’s Secaucus, N.J., data center.

“The real estate in the data center is extremely expensive. So we really needed to manage the rack space,” plus power and cooling costs, he adds.

Highly available clustered SANs had been implemented to address scalability (2TB to 30TB). But current configurations wouldn’t allow hard disk drives to be mixed within the same storage frame, which prevented Gagneja from moving data as needed.

To save physical space, consolidate stored data and streamline its storage infrastructure, Intellidyn implemented Hitachi Data Systems’ AMS500 modular storage system. It has 4Gbit/sec. Fibre Channel port connectivity in a three-tiered storage model for the high-availability clustered servers. The system was tooled on Sun servers, running Sun Solaris 8, with Veritas Storage Foundation software.

First-tier storage, configured as RAID 5, is used for client data and information marts using Fibre Channel running 15,000 rpm for Intellidyn’s customer data. The second tier is configured with RAID 5 and midperformance Fibre Channel for client data warehouses that provide historical data snapshots and time-series analysis. Near-line backups to disk are handled by third-tier RAID 6 Serial ATA drives.

Results: I’m doing the same thing in one rack versus what I would’ve done with three racks. Rack space savings over a three-year period is almost $60,000 per rack,” Gagneja says. Add to that about $85,000 in power savings and another $85,000 for support fees, he notes.

Gagneja plans to add virtualization components for disk-based backup this year. “The key factor in the whole solution was the design,” Gagneja says. In addition to being scalable enough to handle Intellidyn’s growing data requirements, he says, “it has to address the tiered-storage model with integration for future virtualization technologies that we will be rolling out.”


ENERGY-SAVER

Conxerge

Houston
www.conxerge.com

  • Project lead: Philip Skeete, president and CEO

  • Approach: A SAN shared-disk system using blade servers to reduce the number of drives being used and decrease the overall power usage.

Philip Skeete

Philip Skeete

Philip Skeete never gave much thought to the energy-saving features touted by some storage devices. That is until Skeete, president and CEO of Conxerge, a Houston-based managed services provider, decided to move the company’s data storage to a new collocation facility in Dallas.

“The cost of power became more expensive than the cabinet price and the bandwidth put together,” Skeete says. The collocation facility charges as much as $20 per amp. With the average storage cabinet requiring at least 30 amps, “you were looking at $600 of power alone per cabinet” each month, Skeete recalls. Multiply that by 50 servers in 10 cabinets, and energy costs could easily reach $3,000 per month.

The company couldn’t afford to run underutilized servers in the facility, so Skeete began to look for ways to fully utilize its storage systems. He went with a SAN shared-disk system from EqualLogic Inc., using blade servers from IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Appro International Inc., to reduce the number of drives being used and lower the overall power usage.

Results: “If you consider even with the high-density systems we’re using, those blade servers each have two drives per blade, 50 blades in a cabinet — that’s 100 drives. [With shared disks] we can cut that down to 28 drives to provide storage for that many servers,” Skeete says.

What’s more, the storage array itself turned out to have very low power consumption during internal tests — about 2 amps, “which is probably about the same as a high-end desktop computer,” he adds.

Skeete says he can also boot an entire cabinet of blades from a single EqualLogic array. “We get a much better level of data protection with snapshots and data replication,” Skeete says. “We can also deploy new blades faster than any other method by simply cloning an existing server. This takes literally seconds, and the server being cloned doesn’t even need to be shut down.”

Less power and fewer disks and servers has cut Conxerge’s power consumption 40% to 70%, he says, for an annual energy savings of $2,100 per rack.

See more about slimmed-down storage:



Collett is a Computerworld contributing writer. Contact her at stcollett@aol.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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